PHENIX CITY, Ala. – For the first time since 2015, drivers are able to take Whitewater Avenue for their commute home. Phenix City and Russell County officials, as well as business owners and other stakeholders in the Whitewater Avenue (formerly 3rd Avenue) construction project, commemorated the grand reopening of the road Monday morning.
A set of traffic lights (sans cameras) hang over the intersection of 13th St. and Whitewater Avenue. After 16 long months, people now have access to the Northern end of the Phenix City riverfront, which features the Courtyard Marriott, Troy University Phenix City campus, and a new parking deck. Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe tells News 3 soil contamination, sewer issues and massive flooding all caused delays during the project, which started in July 2015.
A 1931 Ford Model A and Tesla were the first cars to roll down the newly opened road, a sign of Phenix City’s past and present coming together.
Smiths Station resident Samuel Johnson frequently commutes from Smiths Station to Columbus for hospital visits. His drive usually takes him through the bottlenecked intersection of 13th and Broad Streets. Now, he’ll be able to bypass some of the heavy traffic by using the two-way Whitewater Ave.
“It’s a lot less confusing to come this way,” Johnson said.
Though the completion of the roadwork signals progress in Phenix City, not everyone believes that the progress is positive. Mayor Lowe warns that the city is moving forward regardless.
“For people who don’t want to get on board, and don’t want to see these changes take place, maybe this isn’t the place for them,” Lowe said.
Lowe says the roadwork is an example of raising the quality of life in the city. He believes Phenix City is “too big to be small.” Phenix City Police Chief Raymond Smith says the city will benefit from reopening Whitewater Avenue. He says the area was harder to patrol with limited road access.
“Now that it’s open, we hope to see an improvement on Summerville Road, as people go home from work,” Smith said. “Today will be the first test of that.”
He expects an instantly smoother transition as the area welcomes more foot, bike, and motor traffic.
“The more people that come to an area, interestingly enough, they’ll lower the crime rate,” Smith explained.
Brad Williams owns a cigar shop across the street. He hopes traffic flows a bit better, even as more planned construction on the riverfront looms on the horizon.
“I think Phenix City has always been a little bit behind Columbus in what they’re trying to do,” Williams said. “And I’d like to see Phenix City be a little more progressive and try to draw on some tourism and positive growth.”